Ask LH: Is This Dirt-Cheap Russian Music Store Legitimate?

Hi Lifehacker, I have been trying to find some cheaper alternatives to the iTunes store for purchasing electronic music legally. I came across LegalSounds. They seem to be selling tracks at $0.09 and albums for $1.99. In their copyright statement they mention that they pay royalties to artists according to Russian laws. However, I wanted to find out if it is actually legal for me to download tracks from this site in Australia? It does sound too good to be true! Thanks, Careful Cheapskate

Dear CC,

I’m no expert on Russian copyright law, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I suggest that the site you’re talking about clearly isn’t legitimate and you shouldn’t use it. Here’s the evidence:

It’s selling material which isn’t available digitally anywhere else. For instance, AC/DC are one of the biggest holdouts in releasing music in digital format, but all of their albums are on LegalSounds. Even if the site wanted to argue the rights to the earlier albums had been acquired through existing distribution deals in Russia, that’s exceedingly unlikely to have been the case with the most recent album, Black Ice, which AC/DC controls all the licensing for. The site is also selling audio-only versions of content which is only being released as part of a DVD pack (such as Adele’s recent Royal Albert Hall concert release). My conclusion? The music hasn’t been licensed at all, instead taking advantage of the unclear status of digital downloads under Russian law.

It doesn’t appear to pay royalties. While the question suggests that the site “pays royalties” under Russian law, what the site actually says is that it pays “license fees” for the material. There’s no suggestion that artists are paid royalties directly, and frankly I’d be amazed if they were.

That makes it risky to give them your details. Would you really want to share your credit card information with a site whose content and legal status is questionable? If they’re happy to rip off artists, why wouldn’t they be happy to rip you off as well?

The Australian legal position in terms of using the site is cloudier. Arguably, knowingly purchasing content that hasn’t been legally acquired might be viewed as a crime. That said, the odds of your being prosecuted would seem small, especially given the low amounts involved.

But you should be avoiding this site anyway because it obviously isn’t paying anything like a fair rate to artists for their work, in the unlikely event it’s paying anything at all. As we’ve pointed out before, music is actually cheaper in Australia than it was two decades ago, and if you don’t want to pay, artist sites and YouTube and radio give you a lot of other options. So stay away from LegalSounds.


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